In keeping with the theme of my past few recipes, I’m sharing another summer friendly dish that takes minimum effort and heat to prepare. Insalata di riso — or rice salad — is a dish that I came across for the first time while living in Bologna. It was June, and the heat was already at its peak. My go-to favorites, tagliatelle al ragù and piadina with prosciutto and mozzarella, suddenly seemed too heavy to eat when the weather was so hot, and tortellini in brodo was completely out of the question. The hearty Bolognese cuisine that I had grown to love in the cooler weather seemed to have turned on me, and my diet began to consist mainly of gelato and macedonia (fruit salad), the few foods that were cool enough for the soaring temperatures.
Despite the heat of the city, my friends and I decided it would be a good idea to climb up to the top of the Monte della Guardia Hill to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca, a basilica that was built between 1723 and 1757. The center of the city and the church are connected by the Portico di San Luca—a 3.5-kilometer arcade with 666 porticos that stretches all the way up the hill. Making the trek up to see the basilica had been an item on my “to-do-in-Bologna” list that I had saved for the very end, forgetting that going uphill was best done in the cooler months. We set off early in the day to avoid the heat as much as possible, and made our way toward the basilica in the 80-degree heat, thankful for the porticos that provided at least a little shade along the way.
The two-hour trek to the top was not easy, but well worth the effort when we finally reached the basilica, which was beautiful, as was the landscape around it and the view of the city. As you can imagine, however, we were all a little worse for wear—sore feet and legs, sweaty, overheated and decidedly hungry after the journey to the top of the hill.
That’s where this insalata di riso comes in. We had all brought along a small cooler with food for a picnic once we reached the top, and insalata di riso was my friend Anita’s contribution. At first, I was skeptical—the ingredients to the salad looked pretty varied, and up until that point I had known rice was meant for risotto or stir-fry, but never served cold.
It turned out to be the perfect dish for that day: it was cool and refreshing, and every bite had a different mixture of flavors. It cooled us all down and filled us up in preparation for the descent back to the city. This is a recipe that I’ve since replicated often at home, and it’s perfect for picnics, barbecues, or just a simple lunch. Note that this is an extremely versatile dish, and every Italian has their own way of making it – I have added in the ingredients I like best, but feel free to mix and match to make your own recipe. Sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, basil, or green olives would also be good additions. Enjoy!
- 1 cup long grain white rice
- 3/4 cup fontina cheese cut in cubes
- 1/2 cup ounces ham, cut in to cubes
- 1/2 cup yellow bell pepper, cubed
- 1/2 cup red bell pepper, cubed
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup black olives, halved
- 1 cup arugula
- 6 ounces tuna in olive oil, drained
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, cook the rice in salted water according to the package directions (generally cooking time is around 13–15 minutes). Drain the rice and rinse it under cold water. Transfer it to a large bowl and let cool.
Next add the peppers, tomatoes, olives, arugula, ham, cheese and tuna to the rice, and toss everything together until well mixed. Season the insalata di riso to taste with salt and pepper and olive oil to taste. Let the insalata di riso rest in the fridge for an hour, covered, until cold. Serves 4.